Monday, December 14, 2009

Study help

This year, my son entered the world of final exams. Last week, he brought home huge study guides for three of his classes. He had never seen so much homework in his life.

He survived last week and is looking forward to taking his exams and enjoying the winter break. Tonight, a parent of a student in his Texas history class sent the other parents a link to an amazing web site called Quizlet ( Some young 15-year-old genius created the site a few years ago while he was studying for a French quiz. There had to be a better way, he thought, and Quizlet was born.

Quizlet allows you, or preferably the student, to create flash cards and sample tests. In my son's case, his history study guide include more than 100 questions and his friend's parent entered the questions into Quizlet and an electronic study guide was created.

Quizlet's founder is now a student at MIT and the site boasts hundreds of millions of scores logged. You can follow Quizlet on Twitter, connect on Facebook or read their blog (

It will be interesting to see if the electronic tools hold my son's attention longer than his multi-page, handwritten efforts. Check back and I'll let you know how it goes!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

School anxiety

 My son experienced some anxiety at school back when he was in the third grade. The anxiety was so bad at one point that he felt physically sick about going to school.

That part of his life passed about four years ago when he started attending a private school for kids with learning disabilities but anxiety has reared its ugly head in our home again.

My daughter does not have any known learning disabilities. In fact, most people would say that she is quite bright and capable in school. Unfortunately, she doesn’t “feel” capable and her entire academic world began to crumble a few weeks ago.

Her biggest issue is overcoming her fear of writing. This year, fourth graders must pass the state writing test so teachers are working hard to make sure they write every day and can put together a well-written paragraph. She can write well but her anxiety is giving her stomachaches, headaches and a blank page.

With her teacher’s help, we’re trying a few things that might be helpful if you have an anxious writer in your house. Her teacher is going to give me the topic they write about in class ahead of time so that my daughter can talk through her thoughts before she sits down to write. The teacher also is breaking up assignments into smaller pieces so that a long story is actually written over a few days rather all in one sitting.

For her assignment last week, we talked about it at home and she wrote down a few key words to help her remember her thoughts the next day. A tape recorder is also a useful tool when kids can talk about a topic but then they can't remember their thoughts when it comes time to write them down.

So far, we’re making some progress. Her journal will come home next week so she can try to make up some of the entries she hasn’t even started. In my daughter’s case, confidence is key and she’ll be getting lots of positive encouragement each time she writes.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dyslexia Becomes Cool

October was National Dyslexia Awareness Month and while I missed all the hoopla surrounding such a notable event, I did catch an article posted on CNN that listed 11 famous people who overcame dyslexia.

Every month is Dyslexia Awareness Month at our house as my almost 13-year-old son continues to overcome his language-based learning disabilities. I decided to share the list with him hoping to give him some inspiration as he began to tackle another evening of homework.

He was barely impressed; most of the “famous” people listed barely got a shrug. He had no idea who Henry Winkler, “The Fonz,” was and swears that he’s never seen “Happy Days.” He was slightly more interested in Keira Knightley who stared opposite fellow dyslexic Orlando Bloom in the Pirates of the Caribbean series.

Most on the list received nothing, not even a hint of name recognition from my son. Charles Schwab, Agatha Christie, Alyssa Milano, Bruce Jenner, and Ingvar Kamprad (founder of IKEA) fell into this category. Whoopi Goldberg, Cher and Jay Leno had recognizable names but he still did not seem to care one iota about their reading struggles.

The big payoff came from an unlikely role model, Ozzy Osbourne.  I can’t say that I’d ever choose to have my son to look up to ol’ Ozzy but in my son’s mind, dyslexia became cool last night all because of aging rock star.

A more complete list of famous dyslexics is posted at For some reason, Ozzy didn’t make that list!